"Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses"
Just think on those two first lines of this song, think on them for a good while. Sometimes it takes a quintessential metal band to express ideas with the proper trope.
Black Sabbath was not out to reform society. They wanted to rock. But even these chaotic-neutral '70s sludge-metal savants knew the difference between wisdom and folly, valor and viciousness. As artists, they understood the craft of creating illusion, allowing them to see through the rhetorical patterns and audacious emotional appeals that tended to lead most folks into danger and disarray. And they had the angsty vehicle of metal music to comment on it.
Give credit to Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, who was the band's lyricist. You can find quality lyrics in most Black Sabbath songs. They delve into complete concepts with developed themes and considered points of view. It's not just a bunch of metal-sounding language, verbal pyrotechnics. Black Sabbath deployed the typical doom imagery of metal culture in a way that utilized its assertiveness for impact and resonance.
Musically, this is a 10-pound baby. Many very fine songs are born to be slight, concise things. But occasionally, a song is born to be a giant. It's not every day a band feels like starting music off with a swirling, bluesy instrumental, coolly jamming long, sustained chords beneath the plaintive wail of an air raid siren. It's not common to then whiplash into a verse of thudding accents punctuating a vociferous vocal solo. The chorus instrumental is common Sabbath-style riffing and interplay with soloing drums, but it's one of their best.
Yet it's only after all of this magic that you begin to understand this song is a big'un. The moment comes when it doesn't just revert into identical verse #2, the easiest thing to do and a songwriter's first impulse. Instead, a completely new part takes over, a beautiful droning groove, perfect for a melodic singing part.
The form of the song is not typical:
Verse A 1
Verse B 1
Verse B 2
Extended guitar solo
Verse A 2
Extended guitar solo/ending
For as great as the vocal sections of the song are, "War Pigs" makes its mark with those extended solo sections. They are their own detailed compositions, less pure guitar solos than combined soloing by all three instruments. In fact, the ending instrumental is a composition with a name of its own: "Luke's Wall." These sections are meditations on the possibilities of heavy rock sound, still studied today by legions, like Shakespearean soliloquies.
This is an 8-minute behemoth of an effort, from the slow-motion open to the fast-motion finish.
Forget "Iron Man" or "Paranoid" or any other Black Sabbath classic - "War Pigs" is the best thing Black Sabbath ever did. This is music's Apocalypse Now.